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Keywords:

  • Poetic urbanism;
  • hip-hop;
  • popular culture;
  • music and the city;
  • alternative data;
  • the future of the social sciences

Abstract

This essay suggests that hip-hop music may reasonably be thought of as a form of urban and regional research. The essay draws upon a recently published book by hip-hop artist Jay-Z, which provides biographical information alongside translations of the lyrical content of his works, to show that hip-hop is full of insider ethnographic insights into urban life. This, it is argued, can be thought of as an answer to Daryl Martin's call for a more ‘poetic urbanism’, an urbanism that captures the material, sensory and emotional aspects of the city. The essay uses Jay-Z's text to illustrate the type of insights and ideas that we might obtain from hip-hop, giving some specific examples of these insights and concluding with some reflections upon this alternative insider account of city life — and how it might provide us with opportunities for expanding our repertoire.